A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Archive for July, 2015

7 Female Bass Players Who Helped Shape Modern Music

Here’s an interesting article from Open Culture that popped up on my FB via The Bass Guitar. As the title suggests, it lists influential female bassists who had a hand in defining the sounds of previous decades. Some of them are more famous that others, and some are more known to musicians and bassists, in particular, than the general public (i.e., Carol Kaye & Meshell Ndegeocello).

Jo Bench, Meshell Ndegeocello, Sean Yseult, Carol Kaye

Some of my favorite bassists who are women – Jo Bench, Meshell Ndegeocello, Sean Yseult, Carol Kaye

Heavier music, like metal, isn’t really mentioned at all – so Sean Yseult from White Zombie doesn’t make the list, and my personal favorite female metal bassist – Jo Bench, from Bolt Thrower, naturally isn’t on here either.

Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale

This is great. 😉

I was reading a thread on Talkbass while eating in which the original poster asked for advice on constructing bass lines. He wants to be able to create something that infuses the sounds of Les Claypool and Geddy Lee. He’s gotten a lot of advice so far, but what caught my eye as I was munching is a video from Bobby McFerrin, who back in the 80s released that all-vocal song, Don’t Worry, Be Happy.

I never cared for the song – probably on account of me being in my early teens and not being happy – but I can’t discredit him for being talented and working with a wide range of accomplished musicians. I’m also curious now about how our toddler would take to it – she’s been making a lot of interesting noises and plays a game where we have to imitate her sounds, pretty much every day. Wifey laughed just last night about how much it sounds like Mandarin.

Anyway, here’s a video from McFerrin that illustrates audience participation using the pentatonic scale. Its a scale that’s always intrigued me. I remember reading about how its considered a sort of universal scale. Cultures all over the world make use of its 5 tones, from aboriginal people to Native Americans to various African and European people everywhere.

Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale

The video is a snippet from a longer presentation that I need to see called Notes & Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus from World Science Festival.

Ride the Lightning (1984)

UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 01:  Photo of Cliff BURTON and METALLICA; Cliff Burton, posed, studio,  (Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns)

CLIFF BURTON and METALLICA (Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns)

31 years ago yesterday, Metallica released their 2nd album, Ride the Lightning. All of you thrash fans will probably know most of these details already, but here’s an article from Loudwire that one of my friends posted on FB. I like that they delved into some of Cliff‘s songwriting and teaching contributions early in the text.

Here’s the part about Cliff:

Guitarist James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich had written most of Metallica’s first album with Dave Mustaine. Since Mustaine was no longer in the group when the sessions for Ride the Lightning began, bassist Cliff Burton stepped to the forefront, contributing to six of the eight songs and encouraging his bandmates to experiment with different tempos and structures on songs like “Fight Fire With Fire” and the cinematic instrumental “The Call of Ktulu.”

Like Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris, who was one of Metallica’s musical heroes, Burton played with his fingers, imbuing the songs with fluidity. Since he had some knowledge of music theory, he showed Hetfield and Hammett how to augment core notes with complementary counter-melodies and how basic guitar harmony worked. He also enhanced the music with effect pedals, including the Morley wah-wah, which provided a sweeping, cutting sound under the metallic crunch.

“I think Cliff was the one who really taught them about melody,” adds Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian. “Cliff was the maestro. He was really accomplished and was thinking beyond thrash and metal. He always wore an R.E.M. t-shirt and a Lynyrd Skynyrd pin on his jean jacket and I think that gives you an idea of where his head was at.”

“Ride the Lightning gave Cliff a platform to shine as a songwriter and a player,” said Metal Mania fanzine founder and KUSF Ramgate Radio DJ Ron Quintana. “He could do it all. He gave Metallica many more options than just playing fast. He loved complex music. He listened to classical, Frank Zappa and it showed in his bass playing.”

I remember reading that wherever they went, Cliff would find a bass teacher and take lessons. He was always learning and exploring. I’m glad that he was able to impart some of what he learned to the rest of the team. R.I.P.

Strange Bass Gallery 6

Its been 7 weeks since I either assaulted or delighted your eyes with another menagerie of strange basses, and they haven’t gotten any less strange since last time.

Here’s a link to the older galleries too:


You know there’s more.


Glossary of Common Words and Phrases Used by Working Musicians


I came across this earlier today in the For Bass Players Only Discussion group on FB. Its a glossary of words – some of which are slang – used by musicians and compiled by Steve Witschel back in January of this year. The comments have a ton of other words and phrases. If you’re not around musicians often, or are but hear a different language when they speak, give this the once-over.

Learning Notes Versus Patterns

Here’s an interesting article from No Treble by Damian Erskine about learning and practicing notes via scale degrees and chord progressions. I haven’t done much of this at all, but one thing is really interesting to me. Towards the end, he mentions playing progressions like 3-4-5-7 instead of starting on the root. Its definitely different from anything I’ve practiced in the past, and actually sounds like it would be a mental workout for someone on my level, because you’d have to find the root and then reach for either the major or minor 3rd right off the bat, instead of anchoring yourself on the 1.

I need to make time and pick up my bass and work through stuff like this.

Also, he’s asked about memorizing notes on the fretboard and says that he didn’t truly memorize them until he learned to read. I can attest that in the time I spent working through the Hal Leonard book, I was definitely learning where the notes on the neck were, 3 or 4 notes at a time. Seeing notation on paper (or a screen) and then having to find a note on the neck by name really does something to cement them into memory.

It also makes me think again about how people refer to the first 4 frets as the “money frets” for bass. I don’t think its just because we get the lowest tones there. I think its also because we can basically find every note there and due to that, I’m sure some people never travel higher up the neck to add higher instances of the same notes to their arsenal.

Damian Erskine

Parenthood and Ethnomusicology

Congrats to the wife for getting an article about parenting, librarianship and metal published on the Society for Ethnomusicology‘s blog. Take a gander – there are even some ugly pics of me with pretty pics of the baby and the ball-and-chain… I mean, better half!